Psychology of How to Overcome Procrastination


Overcoming procrastination can be as hard as getting rid of a bad habit. Thoughts such as, “Why do I procrastinate?“Why can’t I be as successful like him?”  “I will never be able to do this on time”  “How do I stop being lazy”  are few of the thoughts that linger in your mind if you want to overcome procrastination.

Procrastination can be due to a variety of reasons:

  1. response to the fear of failure
  2. perfectionist tendencies
  3. lack of self-management capabilities
  4. low self-esteem due to self-handicapping
  5. avoiding aversive tasks

Procrastinators end up in suffering – both in your professional and personal lives. The outcome of procrastinating is harmful in many ways: increases stress, loss of productivity, poor performance, lowers self-confidence, feeling of guilt, lack of confidence. As a result, these feelings lead to further procrastination and self-criticism.


Psychology of How to Overcome Procrastination

According to researcher and speaker, Piers Steel, 95% of us fall into the trap of procrastination. Overcoming procrastination is not easy since it is a habit that is deeply ingrained within each one of us. Likewise, habits do not change overnight, they need time and patience. If you are struggling with delaying deadlines. or postponing your tasks, then here are 5 ways to overcome procrastination.

1. Break Big Tasks into Smaller Simpler Goals 

The most common and biggest reason for procrastination is blowing everything out of proportion.  Most of the time, you feel that the task you have to complete is either tedious, painful, difficult or monotonous.

In reality, life’s challenges will build up only if you ignore or postpone them. As a result, it stresses you out. Imagine the times when you had to avoid your boss’s call or your girlfriend’s message! Isn’t it stressful? Leaving an important presentation for the last minute puts you under huge guilt and stress. You often justify yourself or make excuses for not doing them –  by saying to yourself:

“I need to be in the mood to do it”

” I don’t like this task, I will do this later.” 

To change the habit pattern of being fearful of your working towards your goals;

Break a huge project/goal into smaller easier doable milestones. For example, if you have to make a presentation or write an essay – take a blank page and give it a name. Now just brainstorm and write for just 5 mins. Was that painful? Not at all! Keep going. Write the steps required to complete each sub-goal. If you are unable to write all the steps at once – begin by writing initial 2-3 steps of specific single-action. Take each step at a time so that it’s not overwhelming.

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Alter the above self-talk to good feeling thoughts:

“I choose to be happy. “

“I am capable enough to do it and I love my work and enjoy it under any circumstances.” 

2.  Focus on your ‘Reward’ and not the ‘Task’

Due to procrastination, you tend to focus more on long-term gains. Instead, Focus on why you need to do this task and what are the benefits of completing it? You must have often heard of awards after the completion of a task or project to beat procrastination. Instead, start setting and giving yourself short term awards along the way.

After having tricked yourself into getting a treat on achieving a goal – you enjoy the reward. However, when you look back, you feel you had cut corners or rushed things. You could still be feeling uncomfortable.

Let’s face the truth!

Mostly, you know you would have done it better, had you started on time or earlier. Just the reward with the completion of the target won’t help you to get motivated at the earlier stages. You could experience boredom or mood swings. The best way to avoid these is to keep your energy up. Do it by rewarding yourself for achieving short term goals as well so that you associate work as something you look forward to.

As per Professor of Psychology Robert Eisenberger’s (University of Houston) theory of industriousness: “Instead of only rewarding ourselves at the end of a task, the trick is to also reward our progress along the way. This way, we shift focus from rewarding the final product to rewarding the performance itself. Through combining effort and rewards we can learn to associate work with something desirable.”

Once you have identified what are the things you procrastinate about setting your reward steps becomes easier. Focusing on the reward will charge you up with enthusiasm and not make the task look daunting. This is one of the simplest ways to overcome procrastination.

What does one procrastinate about mostly:  
  1. Playing games on your phone endlessly
  2. Physical Exercise
  3. Calling your close ones to see how they are doing
  4. Leaving for work or Uni on time
  5. Apologizing to someone
  6. Cleaning your house
  7. Reading that much-awaited book
  8. Spending more time with your spouse/kids

“Today, stop making excuses for why you can’t get it done and start focusing on all the reasons why you MUST make it happen.” – #SoulSunday


3. Learn Time management to Overcome Procrastination 

“When I have time, I will do it” is one of the most common thought procrastinators face.  Time Management may sound Cliche, yet it is a success mantra to identify and focus on your priorities. You may feel your time is eaten up by exigencies, therefore, you have little or no time for other important things. However, if you want to manage time well – ask yourself – does this task serve my core or bigger goal? What do you care about the most?

Yes, it’s true even the most successful people get distracted. You could waste time by, playing video games on the phone, go into a daydreaming stage or just binge watch TV series, or listen to a cousin complain and moan over the phone for hours.

However, people who like being productive, look at all the things they do and decide if they really want to do them or is it waste time. By figuring this out it is easy to put your foot down. You learn to say NO to time-consuming meetings or calls. You will only be able to do so when you believe that you can spend your time more wisely.

4 Tips to Manage Time to overcome Procrastination:

Tune in to your Inner Voice:

You want to leave a legacy of things done successfully when you look back at your life. Make your life meaningful!

Talk to your own self and listen to that inner voice. Don’t let life just slip away procrastinating.

Often you may wonder how does your colleague or friend gets so much done in lesser time. Of course, each one you have an intelligence level and an individual speed to do things, however, you tend to ignore that inner voice. To be efficient at whatever you do – you not only want to complete the task fast, but you also want to complete it efficiently. Focus on doing tasks in a manner, that is a pleasure to the beholder be it personal or professional.

Make an easy-to-use Record Keeping System:

Make a simple system of time management. Start scheduling appointments, or mark the dates to pay bills. Put this up as a glance-at-regularly paper calendar in front of your desk. Check it often to know if you are able to meet the deadlines on time, to overcome procrastination.

Fill in the Gaps to utilize Dead Time:

I always keep a book and a notebook in my backpack, or handbag – handy. Sometimes I make notes when I have ten minutes waiting at the doctor’s, or at the parlor for my turn to come. I even download useful thins I want to watch and keep them in my playlist and plug in my headphones and watch while I am on a short few hours flight.

Reach Out for Help:

Never feel ashamed of asking for help. If you realize you are doing the same task slowly than your co-worker – discuss your daily routine and identify ways you could manage time better. If you think your sibling is great at time-management – shed your inhibitions and ask them for the ways.

“While we waste our time hesitating and postponing, life is slipping away.” – Seneca, a Roman Philosopher



4. Procrastination and Distraction – go hand in hand

Procrastinators find things, circumstances or people – looking for ‘instant gratification’. If you look only at gratifying yourself for the present moment and ignore lessons from the past you will easily fall into the trap of ‘distraction’. You ignore the future looming ahead. All you want to do is, increase the scale of pleasure out of the current circumstance to make it most comfortable. This is the core reason for distraction.

Since you are not able to rationalize: more fun you indulge in, the more of it you want. The fun is usually unearned. The procrastinator’s feelings range from feeling dreadful, anxious, self-hatred among other things.

“Procrastination makes easy things hard, and hard things harder.” 

Attraction of Distraction

Examples of a Distracted Mind:
  1. Refreshing the notifications on your mobile phone again and again for that instant thrill.
  2. Fantasizing about your goals as they would see when they are completed.
  3. Opening the refrigerator door every 15 minutes to see if there’s anything new of interest.
  4. Taking a nap because you want to calm your mind.
  5. Looking at innumerable posts of people on Facebook who you don’t even know well.
  6. Losing track of time by listening to overheard phone conversations.

A recent study proves that the use of an electronic device like your mobile phone drops your performance by an alarming 20%. Distraction leads you to have undone or half-done tasks scattered around you. You wake up by going into a panic mode when it is either a threat to losing your career, an embarrassment in the social sphere,  or something disastrous. It makes you work under panic mode – working all night long,  fight exhaustion just to meet that daunting deadline.

5 Steps to Overcome Distraction and Procrastination

1. Speak out the Truth to Yourself

The first step is to admit that you are distracted and you procrastinate. It’s not self-beating that you should be aiming for. You should also focus on being more efficient and productive.

Firstly, you start to peep inside yourself and hear your truth to find out an answer to ” What am I distracted by? or Why do I procrastinate?” Analyze what is it that you do, to feel less distracted and vice versa. When was it when you felt that time just flew? What do you enjoy doing? Notice when is the social media distraction playing on your mind most? What tends to distract you towards, Watsapp, Facebook or Twitter?

Becoming mindful of what you are your shortcomings is half the battle won!

How to Speak Truth with Mindfulness

2. Maintain a Journal

Every half n hour or an hour – fix an alarm. Make a note of what you did in the last half hour or one hour. What were your major distractions? What did you waste time on?

Always – Notice!

Never – Judge!

Soon you will see the patterns emerge. It will give you clarity on when or what causes the most distraction for you.

3. Take a Decision to Make Changes

Set a realistic goal. Make it accountable and take the help of support groups or the environment. For instance, lift up the energy at your workspace by adding a houseplant at your desk.

Don’t make huge goals. If you want to walk 10,000 steps a day – start with 2500 steps. As you progress – add 500 steps.

You could also set up a system where you post to your boss what you have achieved on a daily basis. Soon your habits of procrastination will change due to a sense of pride at what you have achieved. You will find it easier to work with the phone ringer off or mute the notifications on your mobile phone.

For instance, many of you in the middle of work, will post pictures on social media and distract yourself with all the likes and comments you get. You end up in procrastination by constantly checking your phone. Thus, keeping yourself away from likely distractions will help you overcome procrastination.

Mindful Me

4. Set a Timer or a Stop Watch

Set the timer after 25-30 minutes. Take a 3-5 minute break. Before you take the break set the timer so that it triggers you to get back to what you were doing. Every two hours one should take a 15-20 minute break. Stretch or do a little bit of Yoga to fix bad posture at work – just to make yourself feel good.

How to fix bad posture at work

5. Review your Achievements and Make Changes if required

Check-in your achievements to see how far are you from your goals. Review if you are going at the pace or do you need to re-align the goals as you are discovering your efficiency level to overcome procrastination.

“To think too long about doing a thing often becomes it’s undoing.” – Eva Young

5. Use Self-Talk to Overcome Procrastination 

Procrastination is a difficult problem to overcome because of its multifaceted issues. It faces challenges like decision-making, self-awareness, time-management, and manner of thinking. After having looked at the above four ways to overcome procrastination – one realizes that our thought patterns and the way we do “self-talk’ plays a key role in procrastination.

“Our habitual ways of framing tasks and our internal dialogue can inhibit getting started, sticking with a project, or seeing it through to completion.”  Your self-talk can be transformed to spur your active engagement. Learning to talk to yourself in new ways is important to become productive and overcome procrastination.

Even when you are unaware you constantly talk to your own selves. These thoughts develop our feelings and become influential to our actions and behavior.

For instance: “I have to finish this article before the deadline tonight.” Here – when you use the words “I have” it is dis-empowering. When you speak to yourself – “I have to do something” you imply that you are doing it out of choice or are forced to do it. You trigger a feeling of being a victim. The best alternative to this is “I will” or ” I choose to” or “I am happy to”. This brings you back your power.

How to love yourself -Turn fear into Love -Simple self-love mantra explained by Denzil Oconnell

6. Embrace Yourself 

Struggling with a task because you are aiming for perfection?

Stop doing that!

This mostly takes you down to the path of procrastination. For example, if you are writing an essay and you can’t seem to come up with the perfect first line? Then, do not get bogged down. Write anything that comes to your mind related to that topic. Writing in flow can help you decide later where you need corrections. It is always better to get something done than doing nothing at all.

Embracing your imperfections will take your mind and body out of stress and panic mode. No one is perfect and nothing can always be perfect. Do not beat yourself up by chasing perfection. Be gentle with yourself and love what you do – it will show in the outcome.

Avoid Negative Self-Talk

“I should have started earlier.” “I procrastinate a lot, I am such a loser.”  Such thoughts will only make matters worse. This is a reminder that you should always keep on alert – Never do Self-Negative talk with yourself. Do not let the past procrastination haunt you and disrupt your work further. Think and talk positively about yourself.

Determine what is stopping you from postponing your work. Ask yourself, is it coming from fear, stress, perfectionism, lack of understanding, being judged? Once you diagnose your obstacle, then address it with first, forgiveness and then confidence. Research has also proved that forgiving yourself for past procrastination can help you to stop postponing your work.

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task” – William James (referred to as the ‘Father of American Psychology’)


Take Away

Simply put, procrastination is a habit that delays an important task by focusing on something that is trivial and less significant. It is not a synonym for laziness, so do not mix the two up.

Procrastination has negative effects on both your personal and professional life. It leads to added stress, low self-confidence, reduces morale, and increases the risk of depression.

Thus, to overcome procrastination is to recognize and become aware that you are procrastinating.  Identify and determine the reasons behind why you are procrastinating. Moving forward, use the right strategies to overcome procrastination.

Stop procrastinating and get to work!

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